On Dec. 8, just a month before the Ice Storm of ’98 left more than a half million Maine people without electricity, the Civil Air Patrol, a little known auxiliary of the U.S. Air Force, signed an agreement with the Maine Emergency Management Agency.
“The agreement lets them call on us for any natural disaster,” said Col. James Linker, commander of the Civil Air Patrol’s Maine Wing. “Because of that agreement, all I had to do was pick up the phone, call the natural disaster arm of the Air Force and we had federal money coming into Maine.”
Linker and other volunteer pilots from CAP flew Federal Emergency Management Agency personnel from Vermont to Maine, took Maine Department of Transportation officials and county emergency directors into the air for a bird’s eye view of storm damage and transported Army National Guard crews to and from Eastport.
Because the pilots are volunteers, the total bill for the 35 hours of flying time the patrol delivered as of Monday will be somewhere around $1,800, Linker said.
Linker said he spent three hours and 45 minutes flying a representative of the Maine Emergency Management Agency around the state. The total cost to the Air Force for that trip was $213, he said. A commercial pilot probably would have cost three times that much and helicopters cost about $1,000 an hour, he said.
Maj. Don Littlefield, chief of staff for CAP, said other CAP volunteers worked in shelters throughout the state, and five members helped staff the office of the Washington County Emergency Management Agency.
One member of CAP acted as a liaison with the Maine Emergency Management Agency, the Army National Guard, the U.S. Navy and the MDOT at the emergency services center in Augusta, Littlefield said.
The storm earlier this month was the first disaster of its type for CAP, which is more widely known for search and rescue missions after airplane crashes, Littlefield said.
Linker said the Maine Wing is known across the country for the support it provides to U.S. Customs in its drug enforcement work. CAP pilots take to the air to check out locations where drug dealers can land their planes, Linker said.
“We’ve done a lot of mapping for government agencies” Linker said. “We also take pictures of the coast of Maine for global warming studies.”
Before the storm hit Maine, CAP was scheduled to meet with Gov. Angus King and his Cabinet to demonstrate a new camera that allows CAP pilots to take pictures and send them by radio so they can be viewed on the ground within minutes, Linker said.
Littlefield said the CAP has 406 members in Maine and 53,000 nationwide.
The Civil Air Patrol was organized on Dec. 1, 1941, just six days before the attack on Pearl Harbor. During World War II, members patrolled the Maine coast looking for submarines and watching for enemy planes. One unit sank an enemy submarine in the Gulf of Maine, Littlefield said.
He said many early members were World War I pilots who wanted to do something for their country during the war but were unable to serve in the active military.
Littlefield will be in Machias tonight to present awards to members of the Machias Valley Composite Squadron.